Maya by Shayne Ford
The momentmy mother found out my father had cheated on her with someone from work, she packed her bags, hauled me to her SUV, called her lawyer on her way out, and had the house on the market by five o’clock in the afternoon.
I was fourteen at the time, and a life change, even a terrible one, felt like an adventure to me, so I couldn’t grasp the seriousness of what had happened.
Calista Torres didn’t shed a tear, express panic, or allow herself to be shocked, feel disappointment, or get lost in a maze of questions.
I remember it as if it was yesterday––her stern expression, her locked jaw, her reading glasses placed low on the ridge of her nose as she perused the information on an old computer screen and made several phone calls, swiftly breaking away from a shitty situation.
It had the feel of a drill, although it was the real deal. She was mentally and logistically prepared to handle it, and she took action, unwavering.
She didn’t call her best friend to cry on her shoulder––as I did–– or sob in private–– again, as I did. Maybe her emotions were bottled up because of me, although frankly, I hadn’t been affected at all.
At least, it didn’t feel like I was at the time.
As a teenager, I floated in a different realm, oblivious to what a single act of betrayal could do to my adult life.
It wasn’t that I didn’t love my father, or he didn’t love me.
It’s just that he wasn’t there for me all the way, and that was the problem with men––most men anyway, as I came to understand later in life. And even now, as it happens to me in a more direct, hurtful way.
I don’t know who taught my mother how to handle things so swiftly.
For sure, it wasn’t her parents.
My grandparents got married young and lived together until death did them apart.
They had a large family, built a home, and raised kids and grandkids.
They were my mother’s role models, and mine in many respects, yet when Calista Torres got wind that my father’s strenuous overtime had involved someone else, she erased him from her life with a swipe.
She didn’t have ‘the talk’ with him. Or me. She didn’t warn anyone.
She just did it.
That night we slept in my grandparents’ house.
We had dinner, joked around the table, and tasted my grandma’s brownies––the best in the world.
‘They can cure anything’, she said, although there wasn’t much to cure.
My mother didn’t cry herself to sleep that evening or the next one, and she has never second-guessed her decision.
How did she know how to go through it with so much determination and decisiveness? Beats me. Maybe she read a book or perused the love column of a magazine.
Whatever it was, it worked.
And there was another thing.
She spent zero seconds trying to understand why my father, a forty-eight-year-old executive, hooked up with a married board member.
There were ethical issues to be addressed aside from the moral ones, and subsequently, he lost everything––his family, job, and reputation.
“Karma is a bitch, especially when they think with their dicks,” my mother says, bringing a plate of freshly baked brownies to the table.
A family tradition, the brownies are not only the perfect combination of balanced sweetness, rich chocolate aroma, and smooth texture, but they transcend life’s ugliest circumstances, and here I am, tasting their magic.
My mother tips her gaze to me and reads my dull expression for a moment before walking to the kitchen counter and bringing back two mugs of coffee and my breakfast––boiled eggs, slices of toasted bread, fresh avocado, and salsa.
She sets everything on the table and slides into a chair across from me.
I pick up a brownie and take a bite. They are delicious and so flavorful––the bits of walnuts on top so crunchy.
She smiles again while I muse.
Unlike her, I didn’t pick up the phone and called my lawyer when I caught my husband cheating on me in our bathroom with his boss’ wife.
I packed a few things and walked out of my house without looking back.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
“I’m fine,” I say, chewing softly. “They’re great,” I add, crumbs falling from my lips.
They truly are. Keeping my gaze down, I move my focus from the brownies to the food.
We eat in silence, quiet music playing in the background, drifting from a small radio on the kitchen counter.
My mother’s house is cozy, welcoming. It’s always been like that. Even more so after she started her life as a single parent.
The kitchen is the heart of the place, with its large windows, steel appliances, a wooden breakfast table, and lush plants.
The windows face the manicured backyard and the neighbor’s house.
It’s a nice area outside Seattle.
I clear my throat and take a drink of coffee.
“I’m sorry I’ve messed with your schedule.”
I lift my gaze to her.
A soft smile tilts her lips.
“No worries. I can do yoga anytime.”
At fifty-five, my mother knows how to love herself.
She works from home, runs a part-time business on the side, and splits her time between working out, going out with her friends, and getting together with her long-distance boyfriend from time to time.
Her male friend is the opposite of my father and Mathew, my now soon-to-be ex-husband, and he loves their arrangement too.
A busy entrepreneur, he can’t commit to a full-time, live-in situation. They started out as friends––that’s the key, my mother claimed–– and turned out she was right.
I, on the other hand, have never thought Matthew was it.
I never had butterflies in my stomach, and although we looked good on paper, I doubt we were in love.
At best, we were infatuated with each other, but I didn’t grasp that simple fact for a very long time.
Only in the end, when the red flags had started to go up, I finally understood.
Why have I cried?
It wasn’t because I caught him fucking someone else in our house while the woman’s husband sat at our table in the living room.
And it wasn’t because he betrayed me.
I cried because I felt bad about myself.
About not finding a better man to be my husband, and lacking the courage to do what my mother did when her marriage crumbled.
And it wasn’t even about doing it when I had caught him cheating, but way before when he had started to take me for granted, build a wall around me, gaslight me with his mixed messages and badger me with his requests to be this or that or the other for him.
When he had forced his life views onto me and tried to make me into some perfect woman that was so far removed from what he had actually liked in real life.
That’s why I cried.
My mother wasn’t a role model for me. My grandparents were, and he knew it. We’ve discussed it many times.
He knew I’d be loyal to a fault, and my values were different than his. In the end, he got vexed, bored. Who knows?
I don’t blame him.
I blame myself for being so blind.
“I’ll find a new place soon,” I say.
“No need to hurry. Take your time. I’m not going anywhere, and you’re welcome to live here for as long as you need.”
She brings the cup of coffee to her mouth.
“Did you talk to him?” she asks.
“Where is he?”
“At a friend’s place. I told him he can use the house. I don’t want to go back there anyway.”
She takes a sip and sets the cup down.
“He doesn’t want to go back either,” I add.
A soft smile curls her lips.
“Let me guess. He’s in love with the other woman.”
“It seems that way,” I say.
“You realize she did you a tremendous service.”
Our eyes connect for a few seconds. She brushes crumbs off her fingers before scooping up another brownie.
My mother never said she didn’t like Matt.
He was presentable, had a good job, and wanted to get married. That alone made him scored above average in the dating pool.
She wasn’t in love with the idea of him but didn’t resent him either.
“You never liked him,” I murmur.
An affectionate smile touches her lips.
“Why didn’t you say so?” I ask.
She takes a deep breath.
“Because I couldn’t,” she says. “You wouldn’t have believed me. The woman you were five years ago couldn’t see what you see now at twenty-five.”
“What didn’t you like about him?”
I have a long list of things I didn’t like. Mostly added in the past few months or so. Two years to be exact.
“It’s not about liking him. I’m sure he’s fine for the right person. He wasn’t for you.”
I smile at her efforts to elude the truth.
He was manipulative, hard to live with at times, and a liar in the end.
“Says every mother…” I joke.
“It’s true,” she admits.
Her fingers splay over the table, her gaze stalling on her impeccable manicure for a few moments.
“Listen. Men are…”
She pauses, sighing again, her smile fading, her vacant stare still pinned on the table.
“Men are how you let them be,” she says, flicking her eyes up.
I stare at her, baffled.
“You say it’s my fault?”
“Yes and no. The responsibility is always shared.”
“How were you responsible for my father’s cheating?”
“It’s not only about their cheating. They bear the responsibility for their actions. I’m talking about choosing what’s best for yourself. Sometimes we don’t know any better. Other times we turn a blind eye to what’s going on. I didn’t suspect your father had cheated on me, but I knew he was a weak man. Do I regret my marriage to him? No. Obviously, no. I have you. You’re the best thing that could’ve happened to me. Matthew was weak too.”
“How can you tell?”
“The way he tried to appease you in the beginning. He got you fooled, and it wasn’t intentional. That’s how he was. He’s probably doing the same thing with this woman. He got swept into her story, and unlike you, she didn’t put him on a pedestal, so he’s probably in for a disappointment, but that’s his lesson to learn.”
“I didn’t put him on a pedestal,” I argue.
She reads my eyes.
“You didn’t know any better, so you tried to be the good wife. You know… The woman who tries to keep things together for the sake of her marriage. You did that, but I doubt you were happy, especially these past two years. Or were you?”
The fact that she is pointing out with such precision to the exact moment when my relationship started to collapse gives me pause.
“No, I wasn’t.”
I look down.
“I hated my life.”
She touches my hand.
“I thought sailing through tough times was normal. All couples go through that.”
I raise my eyes.
Softly, she strokes my hand.
“Yes. People do that, but going through tough times is more like… I don’t know. Having financial difficulties, perhaps? Raising kids, taking care of an aging parent, or stuff like that?”
She stops while I wait for her to continue.
Smoothly, she pulls her hand back.
“I’ve never believed in the perfect man. We, people, are not perfect, so it’s an exercise of futility to look for that perfect partner, but often, we like to believe there is a perfect match out there. The main reason I didn’t like him was that he didn’t have much to give, while you had everything to give.”
My lips part in surprise.
“He probably knew it, and that made me dislike him even more.”
I lean back in my seat.
“What do you mean?”
“There were so many things you wanted to do before you met him, and then…”
She stops and sighs, smiling faintly.
“Then he assigned you a role in his life, made sure you never overstepped that role, and ignored you.”
“That's cold,” I say, smiling.
She’s spot on.
“It’s the truth.”
I ponder for a moment.
“Why didn’t I do what you did?” I ask.
“Because you’ve lost your autonomy, and it was much more difficult than it was for me. You can say a lot of things about your father, but he wasn’t devious or maybe smart enough to strip me of my freedom. I had feelings for him, but I wasn’t lost in a maze of bullshit he had created for me. I saw things clearly and wasn’t willing to compromise. You, on the other hand, had lost yourself little by little, trying to please this man before you ended up emotionally bankrupt. He robbed you of your time and, more importantly, your hope. That’s why you couldn’t see him for who he was, and you couldn’t do what I did, but things happen for a reason, and you are on track to have the best life from now on.”